Tuesday, December 23, 2008

the judge and the defence

Top 10 Albums of 2009

9. Mr Love and Justice - Billy Bragg (Swiss Toni)

Bragg's twelfth studio album is very much along the lines of his others: for a man renowned for being the missing link between Woody Guthrie and Joe Strummer, far more of Bragg's songs are about love than they are about politics. "I Keep Faith", "I Almost Killed You", "M For Me", "You Make Me Brave", "Something Happened", "If You Ever Leave"... all are fairly direct songs of love and devotion.

Politics is still there, of course, and "O Freedom" is a brutally direct and pretty unsubtle lament on the post "War on Terror" world ("O Freedom what liberties are taken in thy name"). Bragg recorded the album with the Blokes, his backing band, and the overall tone is distinctly country-tinged and similar to his work with Wilco on the "Mermaid Avenue" albums.

For me though, the definitive versions of these songs are to be found on the bonus disc, where Bragg performs them all solo, old-school style, accompanied only by his own electric guitar. This is where he really comes to life. Stripped of the backing band, this is where Billy Bragg makes the most sense. He's mellowed a touch with middle-age, and he's no longer quite the same frustrated young man of "The Saturday Boy", but his fires and passions still burn more brightly than most. He's a national treasure.

Key track: "O Freedom"

9. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust - Sigur Ros (LB)

I am a late convert to the charms of the Icelanders but after the beautiful brilliance of Hvarf/Heim last year I was smitten. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust has been their most successful album in chart terms to date and their singles have made mainstream radio playlists.

It’s difficult to explain Sigur Ros to people who haven’t heard of them. My mother thinks it sounds like some weird pan pipe music (although she likes Hoppipolla, mainly thanks to the BBC’s excessive usage of it some time ago). I have to say that I much, much prefer them when they are in relaxed, reflective mode and so the easy highlight of Meo... for me is the superb, sweeping nine minute Ara batur. The mixture of that gentle piano and his unique falsetto vocal is one of my very favourite things in a quarter century of buying music and nowhere is it better showcased than on this stunning piece.

Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust has less of these slow, gently moments than previous releases and as such it isn’t my favourite of their albums. There are more upbeat, ambitious moments here than previous and whilst the jaunty appeal of Gobbledigook and Inni mer syngur vitleysingur can’t be ignored, I would have preferred an hour of fantastic, sweeping piano ballads. It’s a minor and personal criticism, though, of a band who continue to grow and develop with each release.

Favourite track - Ara batur

9. Dear Science - TV On The Radio (Bedshaped)

The only thing I know about this band is that the lead singer has got a wicked beard. Other than that all I know is that they’ve made a really good album.

It’s like an indie sound, with lashings of rock, with added electronica, orchestration and funk. I dunno, think Genesis crossed with Gary Numan, Bloc Party crossed with Chic and Arcade Fire.....

His voice is often sombre in it’s appearance, sometimes breaking, sometimes leaping into a falsetto that’s right on the peak. It’s interesting to listen to, if nothing else. And the range of musical styles on this album also captivates the ear and gently massages it with each further listen. A definite grower!

They’ve just written and played some really good songs here. It’s pretty much as simple as that. One of the songs will be playing, all sounding very nice, then something else will happen...a beat change, a chord change....something....and it pricks up the listeners ears. An admirable quality for which they should be applauded.

It’s almost like a guessing game of who’s who on the influenced by list. I hear Peter Gabriel, Kraftwerk, Blur, Radiohead, Talking Heads, Beck, Prince, Bowie.... The sort of album you could have playing in the background at a cafe and know for sure that at least one person will ask you what it is. And it’s always good to have albums like that in your collection.

2 Discussions:

Blogger bedshaped said...

Billy Bragg....
Now, I don't know how I feel about Billy. We've never had any kind of relationship. There have been rare occasions when he's caught my attention a little, but nothing more than a gentle stir.

The Sigur Ros album I know I really need to get. I'm even later than you, LB, getting into them. Thanks for the extra and well needed push to go do some investigating.

6:12 PM  
Blogger swisslet said...

I saw Sigur Ros play with radiohead when they were touring Kid A, and I loved them. Strangely though, they haven't kicked on for me. I really like "Hoppipolla" (obviously) and I like a lot of their other stuff, but I wouldn't say that I love them. Another band I need to give more time to, I think.

TV on the Radio. Hmm. Everyone raved about their last album a couple of years ago, I bought it and it left me completely cold, so I'm not rushing out to buy the new one, no matter how much everyone says how brilliant it is. No actually, I *less* likely to buy it the more the "critics" go on about it. I do agree about that brilliant beard though...

Billy Bragg? Definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but for me it's his early, old-school stuff that really gets me going. He's brilliant live too, if you ever get the chance.


10:30 PM  

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